The world continues to be a volatile place. Even after a Veteran’s service is complete, news of conflicts around the world, including ongoing events in Afghanistan, can act as triggers and have a significant impact on mental health.

These events can affect CAF Veterans and former RCMP members who served in Afghanistan, as well as the Family members and friends who stand beside them. Service providers themselves can also be impacted.

It is vital that any Veteran, Family member, friend, or service provider who is triggered by these ongoing conflicts is able to access resources and advice to care for their mental health.

Here you will find information, practical ideas and resources for those impacted by ongoing conflicts around the world.

These resources aim to provide supportive suggestions and information related to common reactions many may be experiencing at the moment, as well as coping tips and available resources for mental health and well-being support.

You can also download the factsheet with tips for coping with current events in Afghanistan.

Coping with Current Events in Afghanistan: Help for Veterans and former RCMP members, their Families, and Friends

Reactions among Veterans

If you served in the area, you could experience a range of reactions to events in 2021 in Afghanistan. These include:

  • Frustration, anger or betrayal
  • Worry or distress
  • Panic or anxiety
  • Pre-occupation with information related to Afghanistan
  • Memories of military or deployment exercises
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping

Feeling like this in response to negative events is normal. If you have a personal connection to these events, this is especially true.

If you spent time deployed in Afghanistan, you may also worry about the safety of the Afghan Nationals you met or whom you aided.

You may question the meaning of your service or the sacrifices you made. You may find yourself preoccupied with the long-term impacts on the people of Afghanistan.

You may also feel the need to expect or prepare for the worst. You may:

  • Become overly protective, vigilant or guarded
  • Be preoccupied by danger
  • Become hyper-focused on mentally preparing for possible negative future outcomes

It is important to remember that these feelings will naturally run their course.

Reactions among Families and Friends

If you are a Family member or friend of someone who previously served—or who died in service—in Afghanistan, the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021 may have been very difficult to experience.

If you are the Family or friend of a service member who died, times like these can intensify or re-trigger what is already a complex grieving process. You may be experiencing any number of the reactions listed above for post-service Veterans.

As the Family or friend of a Veteran who has returned from Afghanistan, you may witness and experience difficulty and pain in them and in yourself.

Even if you did not serve yourself, you may experience:

  • Increased stress
  • Changes in the Veteran that cause them to become overly protective or isolated
  • Tension or strain in your relationship
  • Burnout or compassion fatigue as a result of the intense effort of emotional support

These feelings are normal, and just as for Veterans themselves, these emotions will naturally run their course.

If they continue without easing, or escalate to a point where you are overwhelmed, we offer coping tips and additional resources below for additional support.

Coping Strategies for Veterans and their Families

You may feel doubt about the value of your service. Remember the ways your service had a positive impact on Afghan Nationals, and on your own life.

Talk to other Veterans or service members who may be feeling the same way you are right now. The community is stronger together.

Do things that are rewarding and meaningful, no matter how big or small. You won’t change the past, but you can refocus on the present and reduce stress.

Sometimes all that a Veteran needs is someone to hear them. Don’t coach or give advice. Stay in your comfort zone, and if things become overwhelming, encourage your loved one to seek professional advice.

A regular, achievable routine can provide stability and comfort during times of distress. Sleep, eat, work and continue with other day-to-day activities.

Seeking professional mental health support is not a sign of weakness. There are many qualified people ready to help you through this difficult time. Refer to the resources list below for some available mental health and well-being supports.

Tips for service providers

These challenging times increase the complexity of the task for mental health service providers.

If you are a service provider and you are looking to reach out to any of your clients about events in Afghanistan, remember these three key strategies.

Every Veteran or Family member is unique. Reach out to see how they are being affected. Begin broadly, ask if they are engaged with their support network.

As Veterans may question the value of their service in light of events, help them remember the positive impact they had, invite them to think in less extreme terms, and remind them that things will continue to change.

As ongoing stressors can negatively impact routines and mental health processes, ensure your clients are connected to their Families and friends, that they are engaged in meaningful activities and that they stick to their routines.

You may also be experiencing distress yourself as a service provider. If you feel impacted, we strongly encourage you to seek out mental health supports.

Military or Veteran medical officers and civilian physicians in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Nunavut are able to access free, immediate counselling 24/7 via the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) Wellness Support Line. Resources for each province are available through the CMA website.

Seeking support

Call 1-800-268-7708

The VAC Assistance Service is for Canadian Armed Forces Veterans, former RCMP members, and their Families and caregivers. You can reach them 24/7
by phone. They can provide you with confidential, immediate, free mental health counselling. They can also provide a referral to a longer-term counsellor.

Call 1-800-268-7708

The Member Assistance Program is for Canadian Armed Forces Members and their Families. You can reach them 24/7 by phone. They offer confidential, voluntary, short- term counselling. They can also provide a referral to a longer-term counsellor.

Call 1-800-866-4546

The Family Information Line is for Canadian Armed Forced Members, Veterans, and their Families. You
can reach them 24/7 by phone for a confidential, immediate, free counselling support, crisis management, information, and referrals.

Text CAFKIDS to 686868 or Call 1-800-668-6868

The Crisis Text Line for Kids is for children, youth, and young adults from military Families. You can reach them 24/7 by text or phone. They offer confidential, immediate, free mental health counselling.

Call 1-855-242-3310

The Hope for Wellness Help Line is for all Indigenous Peoples across Canada. You can reach them 24/7 by phone. They offer confidential, immediate, free counselling support.

Call 1-833-456-4566
For residents of Quebec, call 1-866-277-3553

The Canadian Suicide Prevention Service is for all Canadians. You can reach them 24/7 by phone. They offer confidential, immediate, free counselling support.

Acknowledgements

These resources have been adapted from two resources developed by the National Centre for PTSD (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs): “Coping with Current Events in Afghanistan,” and “Provider Guide to Addressing Veterans’ Reactions to Current Events in Afghanistan.”

Find more resources

Browse the knowledge hub for more evidence-based information, factsheets, reports and tips.